Felipe Calderon’s War Against Mexican Drug Cartels Has Opened Up Pandora's Box


In July Mexico is electing a new president for a six years term. For the last 12 years the National Action Party (PAN) has been the sitting administration, the first party change in the Mexican federal government since the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the 2000 election after 70 years of hegemonic control. But the sitting president Felipe Calderón, elected in 2006, is leaving his successor a country torn by violence. In the last five years the war between government forces and drug cartels has produced a shocking increase in violent deaths. In 2006 there were 2,119 killings registered in the country caused by drug wars; but since Calderon took office in that year, Mexico has seen a skyrocketed surge of violence that reached more than 47,000 violent deaths by that cause, an increase of more than 700% by the end of 2011. There can be no doubt that this alarming increase in violence, produced by division within the leadership of some of the most important drug cartels, is the top priority of the Mexican agenda. The question is, did Calderon did the right thing by his spirited charge against drug cartels?

Opinions vary as to what was the cause for this spread of violence. The official explanation says that the recent break between the criminal organization known as the Zetas and the Gulf cartel triggered a bloody war that started targeting civilians. Also the Zetas began a war with the Sinaloa cartel as they allied with the dissident faction of the Beltran-Leyva brothers. The Sinaloa cartel is considered by some United States’ authorities to be among the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world, especially now that it has defeated the Juarez cartel in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and El Paso, Texas; the eye of the storm in the Mexican drug war.

However, in Mexico the Sinaloa cartel has built an image of “business professionalism” claiming not to wage war on civilians, whereas the Zetas have gained a reputation for hectic, cruel, and generalized violence. This is one of the main reasons why Calderón’s administration is focusing most of its security strategy on putting down the Zetas and their allies, leading some critics to accuse his administration of neglecting the growth of the Sinaloa cartel.

Others point out that the Calderón’s administration threw itself unprepared in a rash attempt to crack down on drug cartels. Widespread corruption, especially at the local and regional levels, has made it difficult to target these organizations that have infiltrated the government and law enforcement agencies for years.

Calderón’s administration has also criticized the PRI for having connections with drug trafficking, now buttressed by recent U.S. DEA investigations, that have uncovered connections between the cartels and some PRI officials in Mexico’s northern frontier states. This is part of the PAN strategy to discredit the PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto who is leading the polls by huge margins, over the PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota. The PRI answers back by charging Calderón’s administration of corrupting justice for political reasons. This might be a fair criticism, but seeing the challenge posed by drug cartels, Mexico cannot afford to have a president subservient to these criminals. The Pandora Box is already open, and whoever wins the election is going to face this emergency that is tragically bleeding Mexican society independently of party affiliations. As Calderón said last Saturday “whoever doesn’t want to fight criminals, don’t be in government."

Calderón’s policy to crack down on drug lords using all the strength of the government, moving even the military for that purpose, might have been among the initial causes of the spread of violence, one of the reasons of his high unpopularity. But a society cannot live forever blackmailed by illegal gangs, and sooner than later someone had to take the hard choice. For the time being thousands of Mexicans are paying with blood and tears the tragedy of this war, but I think Calderón did the right thing.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons